Some parents may be turning to special cow’s milk formulas to help lower the risk of asthma or allergies in their babies. However, these hydrolyzed infant formulas do not appear to protect against autoimmune disorders, warned a new study.
The researchers called for international guidelines to stop recommending the said products.
Allergies and autoimmune conditions are on the rise in many countries, leading to increased chronic illness among the youth. Evidence previously suggested that intact cows’ milk protein via milk formula and other early dietary exposures among babies can up the risk for these diseases.
Then entered hydrolyzed cows’ milk formula to replace standard formula and help prevent such health issues in the first few months of life. This formula is currently recommended in nations in North America, Europe and Australia.
But Robert Boyle and his colleagues from Imperial College London found no consistent proof that hydrolyzed milk formula can deliver the touted benefits.
"Our findings conflict with current international guidelines, in which hydrolyzed formula is widely recommended for young formula-fed infants with a family history of allergic disease,” wrote the study authors.
The team conducted a review and meta-analysis of 37 intervention trials that included more than 19,000 individuals from 1946 to 2015. The trials compared hydrolyzed milk formula with natural human breast milk and standard cows’ milk formula, and reported on relevant conditions such as asthma, eczema, food allergy and type 1 diabetes.
It appeared that no evidence supported the FDA-approved claim that partially hydrolyzed formula could slash eczema risk. The same proof was missing for the Cochrane review conclusion that the milk could prevent allergy to cows’ milk.
The authors also noted potential conflicts of interest as well as high risks of bias in most studies favoring the positive effects of hydrolyzed milk formula. There was also evidence of publication bias for wheeze and eczema studies.
"It is now time for this evidence to be used for updating and clarifying current recommendations and guidelines,” concluded the authors, adding that experts should pursue more effective interventions and provide greater transparency in pertinent research.
Experts like Dr. Punita Ponda of Northwell Health in New York highlighted breast milk as the healthiest choice in infant feeding.
However, current mainstream guidelines for infant formula suggest shifting to hypoallergenic formula if a close relative like an older sibling has a food allergy. This was anchored on prior studies that found some level of protection, explained Ponda.
According to the allergy and immunology expert, current recommendations might have to be revised in light of these findings. “[E]ven if there is no harm in using these formulas, they are often more costly and harder to find in the grocery stores.”
The findings were published in The BMJ on March 8.
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